Home » Jack London’s Bay Area mansion burnt down 108 years ago. Today, you can hike to its ruins.

Jack London’s Bay Area mansion burnt down 108 years ago. Today, you can hike to its ruins.

by Marjorie

For years earlier than a single blueprint was drawn, author Jack London dreamed of his excellent home. Nestled amid the redwoods of Sonoma Valley, the 26-room mansion would wed utility and sweetness, and it could be constructed to final.

“Act of God allowing, my home shall be standing for a thousand years,” wrote London in his essay, “The Home Lovely.”

The development of “Wolf Home,” the place the “Name of the Wild” creator would dwell together with his spouse Charmian London, started in 1911 on their 1,000-acre Magnificence Ranch on the jap slope of Sonoma Mountain. It could have a mirrored image pool, an intensive library, 9 fireplaces, wood flooring, and all the trendy facilities of the day: a water heater, electrical lighting, refrigeration, laundry services and even a built-in vacuum cleansing system.

After witnessing (and famously documenting) the devastating San Francisco earthquake and fireplace because it unfold in 1906, London didn’t need to take any probabilities with Wolf Home. He ensured his residence’s design included an enormous concrete basis slab that would assist a 40-story constructing, in addition to fire-proof supplies comparable to volcanic rock and redwood with its bark nonetheless on.

“It will likely be a cheerful home — or else I’ll burn it down,” wrote Jack. “It will likely be a home of air and sunshine and laughter.”

A historic photograph exhibits Jack London (proper) on website at Wolf Home.

Courtesy of Huntington Library

However on Aug. 22, 1913, shortly earlier than the Londons had been to maneuver in, these desires went up in smoke. Round midnight, Jack and Charmian, asleep of their close by cottage, awoke to seek out flames licking on the practically accomplished construction.

By the point they received to the scene, it was too late: Wolf Home was destroyed. The grandiose constructing was by no means rebuilt, and Jack died simply three years later. However its charred bones stay — at present, you possibly can hike to the ruins of the once-beautiful Wolf Home in Glen Ellen’s Jack London State Historic Park.

On a current Friday afternoon, I hiked the half-mile as much as the ruins, which you first glimpse arching eerily by way of a grove of bay, madrone and redwood timber. Moreover just a few birds chirping and a lizard scuttling up the facet of a moss-covered stone wall, it was quiet. A handful of hikers peered eagerly into the burnt-out shell from an overlook.

“The home was designed to suit into the panorama superbly,” stated Susan St. Marie, this system director at Jack London State Historic Park. “It was like a giant lodge in the best way it seemed, with all of the stone work from the quarries that had been throughout the valley, and the redwood with its bark on … And the home was located in order that it had a pleasant view of Sonoma Valley. It is all overgrown now so you do not actually see a view of the valley, however it could have at the moment.”

The remains of the reflection pool at the Wolf House, which was destroyed by a fire in 1913, at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, Calif., April 16, 2021.

The stays of the reflection pool on the Wolf Home, which was destroyed by a fireplace in 1913, at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, Calif., April 16, 2021.

Chris Preovolos/Hearst Newspapers

Whereas the hearth 108 years in the past gutted the inside of the constructing, from its oak and walnut furnishings to its crimson tile roof, a lot of Wolf Home continues to be standing. The castle-like stone partitions tower excessive above the forest flooring with the assistance of contemporary bracing helps, wanting decidedly medieval. From the overlook, I peered into the remnants of the mansion, orienting myself with the structure of the home. Immediately earlier than me was the hollowed out shell of the pool, the place Jack meant to swim and hold fish. Under, within the basement, was the “stag occasion room,” subsequent to it, the eating room, the place the hearth is believed to have began.

For many years, the reason for the hearth remained shrouded in thriller. At first, arson was suspected.

“As to the origin of the hearth, it might have been the work of a disgruntled worker and it might not,” learn a Press Democrat article in 1913, just a few days after the hearth.

“Public sentiment ran excessive: and I believe, had the prison or criminals who fired it been detected that evening, there would have been a stringing-up to the closest limbs, in lusty frontier trend,” wrote Charmian in her account of the destruction.

The remains of the Wolf House, which was destroyed by a fire in 1913, at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, Calif., April 16, 2021.

The stays of the Wolf Home, which was destroyed by a fireplace in 1913, at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, Calif., April 16, 2021.

Chris Preovolos/Hearst Newspapers

However in 1995, a group of consultants led by Robert Anderson, a retired engineering professor from San Jose State College, performed a forensic evaluation of the 15,000 square-foot construction. Though they didn’t utterly rule out arson as the reason for the hearth, they deemed it unlikely. As an alternative, they chalked it as much as the spontaneous combustion of linseed oil-soaked rags left behind within the eating room by staff. It didn’t assist that Sonoma Valley was within the midst of a warmth wave, and the wooden flooring and paneling offered ample gas for the devastating fireplace.


Whereas Jack vowed to rebuild, and even began the method, it wasn’t meant to be.

“They’d poured some huge cash into this home, one thing within the neighborhood of $75,000 in that yr’s cash,” defined St. Marie. “Jack was one of many wealthiest or highest incomes authors of his time, however he spent all of it sort of earlier than he ever received it and labored off of advances. They merely did not have the cash.”

The lack of Wolf Home “killed one thing in Jack, and he by no means ceased to really feel the tragic internal sense of loss,” wrote Charmian in her diary. He died in 1916, succumbing to varied well being points, and was buried on the property. Hikers can go to the author’s grave only a brief hike away, his ashes laid to relaxation beneath a stone from the ruins of Wolf Home — the place Charmian joined him when she died in 1955.

A faded photo of the Wolf House at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, Calif., April 16, 2021.

A light photograph of the Wolf Home at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, Calif., April 16, 2021.

Chris Preovolos/Hearst Newspapers

With all of the tragedy that befell the Londons right here, some consider that the ruins of Wolf Home are haunted. Folks have secretly visited the park in the midst of the evening to depart behind human ashes and wreaths, and within the Nineteen Eighties, a ghost hunter photographed what he claims to be the ghostly spectre of Charmian on the website, as described in a wonderful ebook on Wolf Home written by retired Jack London State Historic Park rangers Matt Atkinson and Greg Hayes.

St. Marie, nonetheless, doesn’t purchase it.

“Effectively, I am the fallacious particular person to ask that query, as a result of I do not consider in haunting,” she stated. “It’s a really spectacular construction and in several sorts of climate and light-weight, it modifications fairly a bit when it comes to the way it appears. However haunted, I might say no.”

Over a century for the reason that “White Fang” creator died, Jack London State Historic Park is now grappling together with his legacy. Regardless of his status as a progressive socialist, Jack additionally revealed white supramicist-leaning and racist prose, significantly about Asian folks. Final summer season, just a few petitions emerged calling for the renaming of Jack London Sq. in Oakland.

At the moment, the park is working with a group of London students and educators to be taught extra about London’s views on race, which is able to inform how park guides discuss to guests concerning the creator.

A historic photo shows a wagon stopped in front of a nearly completed Wolf House.

A historic photograph exhibits a wagon stopped in entrance of an almost accomplished Wolf Home.

Courtesy of Huntington Library

“It’s crucial now that we broaden our data and understanding of Jack London’s views on Folks of Shade, as seen by way of the lens of racial justice and fairness,” learn a portion of an announcement on the subject from the Jack London Park Companions. “Raised in a world of contradictions, Jack London had conflicting and conflating experiences and views round race relations all through his life. His story is really advanced. Did Jack London frequently use racist language? Sure. Do most individuals at present take into account him a racist? Sure. Additionally … it’s difficult. In reality, you would say that he embodies the very advanced nature of race relations in our nation as an entire.”

Regardless of this re-evaluating of Jack’s legacy, the park has seen an inflow of tourists through the pandemic. In 2020, the as soon as hidden gem noticed a 20% to 30% enhance in guests from the earlier yr, in keeping with St. Marie. The park has much more to supply than simply Wolf Home: Hikers can roam the Londons’ outdated vineyard ruins, the cottage the place the couple resided, the Pig Palace (an innovatively designed pig pen), a museum, and 29 miles of back-country trails by way of grassy meadows and redwood-filled canyons.

However the Wolf Home ruins, certainly, are the park’s crown jewel. Standing earlier than its moss-covered stays, it takes solely a bit of creativeness to conjure the magnificence of the near-completed fortress; and, consequently, the devastation of a dream home destroyed.

“It isn’t the cash loss — although that’s grave sufficient simply presently,” Jack informed Charmian simply after the hearth, as recounted in her diary. “The principle harm comes from the wanton despoiling of a lot magnificence.”

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